Africa’s social diversity: an asset for democracy

16 Oct 2012

image A woman has her finger dipped ink after voting in legislative by-elections in Grand Laho, Côte d'Ivoire. By-elections were organized in eleven of the country's constituencies after irregularities were found in the original vote held on 11 December. (Credit: UN Photo/Hien Macline)

Gaborone, Botswana — African leaders, international organizations and civil society representatives will meet in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, for the next three days to discuss Africa’s diverse social fabric and how it can serve as an asset for democracy and development.

Hosted by the President of Botswana, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, the eighth edition of the African Governance Forum, organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union, will focus on maximizing the participation of Africans from different backgrounds in elections and decision-making.

The 250 participants at the forum will look at the criteria for staging credible elections in Africa, such as peace, freedom from intimidation, equality of access to resources for candidates, independent verification of results and civil society involvement.

In doing so, they will focus on the importance of capitalizing on Africa’s immense diversity – the continent is home to a rich mix of cultures, ethnicities, religions and languages – ensuring all groups are peacefully and actively involved in elections.

As the most marginalized populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, youth and women will constitute a particular topic of focus.

Over the past 20 years, Africa has been home to a democratic renaissance, evidenced by the organization of more than 200 elections, the emergence of vibrant civil societies and more accountable, development-oriented governments.

Although indispensable for democracy, elections have nevertheless produced vastly different results, leading to democratic consolidation and further development, or to deepening divisions and ultimately to conflict.

Success stories abound. In 2010, against all odds, Guinea held its first ever democratic election. The following year, Niger transitioned to civilian rule in a ballot widely hailed as an example for the rest of Africa. In 2012, people in Senegal and Zambia peacefully headed to the polls, picking opposition leaders.

At the other end of the spectrum are the 2007 presidential elections in Kenya and 2010 elections in Côte d’Ivoire, both characterized by contested results and the mobilization of political, tribal and religious factions by politicians.

“Free and fair elections are not enough to constitute a democracy,” says the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Botswana, Anders Pedersen. “The paradox is that elections are a necessary feature of a democratic state but a democratic culture needs to be in place for elections to work,” he said.

Between 2000 and 2008, Africa created 73 million jobs, but only 16 million for young people aged between 15 and 24. Of Africa’s unemployed, 60 percent are young people and youth unemployment rates are double those of adult unemployment.

In addition, while encouraging progress has been seen with an increasing representation of women among African decision-makers, including parliamentarians —Rwanda has 56 percent of women in the lower house of parliament while South Africa has 42 percent — women still struggle to make themselves heard when it comes to policy-making.

Following the official opening this morning by the President, the keynote speakers will include the Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, Tegegnework Gettu; the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma; UN Under-Secretary-General and UNECA Executive Secretary, Carlos Lopes, and the former President of Cape Verde, Pedro Pires.

Contact Information

In Gaborone, Patterson Siema Patterson.siema@undp.org

In New York, Nicolas Douillet nicolas.douillet@undp.org